Each year, more than 140,000 Americans under the age of 45 are diagnosed with cancer. These individuals could face a risk of infertility due to their diagnosis as well as their cancer treatment, particularly from higher dosage and longer treatments. For all individuals diagnosed with cancer who may want to have a child in the future, it is critical that they understand how treatment could affect their fertility and learn about the options for fertility preservation before treatment begins. Unfortunately, patients and survivors don’t always get information about the potential impact to their fertility before treatment.
In 2012, the LIVESTRONG Foundation conducted a survey of cancer survivors to better understand their needs, including fertility preservation. In total, over 6,300 people took the survey of which 1,333 survey respondents who were diagnosed as adolescents or young adults between 15 and 39 years of age. This analysis focuses on the 1,333 adolescents and young adults who took the survey.
Overall, we found that most survivors (76%) did not preserve their fertility before they were treated for cancer. For these respondents, the most common reason for not seeking fertility preservation was a lack of interest in having any children or any more children (42% male, 39% female). However, many other survivors did not seek fertility preservation because they did not have information about risks of infertility and preservation options. Still, other survivors indicated that they experienced other barriers in trying to preserve their fertility before treatment.
Approximately 14% of men and 21% of women did not receive any information about ways to preserve their fertility before their treatment began (Figure 1). Other reasons that respondents did not seek fertility preservation included not having enough time (18% men, 25% women) and expense (14% men, 13% women).
Figure 1: Reasons for men and women not taking steps to preserve fertility
About 18% of survivors tried to conceive after they finished treatment for cancer. Of those individuals, 65% of men and 58% of women were successful in conceiving after their cancer treatment. Interestingly, among the survivors who were able to get pregnant, approximately 90% of men and 97% of women used natural means to become pregnant and did not use any kind of assisted reproductive services such as in vitro fertilization or sperm/egg preservation.
We also asked survivors about the costs for fertility preservation and found that women reported higher costs than men on average. Among survivors who took steps to preserve their fertility, 43% of men paid less than $1,000 compared with only 22% of women. Women were more likely than men to report expenditures of $10,000 or more. See Figure 2.
Figure 2: How much survivors spent on fertility preservation
LIVESTRONG has been responsive to this need among cancer patients and survivors through LIVESTRONG Fertility, a program that helps individuals diagnosed with cancer become informed about reproductive risks and access fertility preservation options. The fertility program provides information about topics such as: fertility resources, cancer and fertility risks, fertility preservation options and parenthood options. Additionally, for people who are seeking a way to preserve their fertility, the Foundation helps patients access discounted rates for fertility preservation and finding local fertility-related resources.
To find out more about the fertility services and resources the Foundation offers, visit www.LIVESTRONG.org/fertility.